From design to behaviours

3 min readMay 17, 2023


We often work with people as if the only insights relevant to use are the experience and needs they have towards a service — i.e. renewing a blue badge — an issue — i.e. getting a job — or a neighbourhood.

But their experiences and expectations are shaped by similar experiences of using services, influences from their networks (i.e. “you can’t get a job through the job centre, so don’t sign on”) and the relationships with the people they trust the most (have) had with particular services (i.e. parents who failed their exams at school) and external pressures (i.e. having to care for parents with dementia).

We need to move from customers’ needs to understanding the environment which shapes their motivations, behaviours and decisions.

I’ve found The Design With Intent Cards by

Dan Lockton

an excellent way to help you think through this creatively. From those cards, the below are the techniques I’ve found the most helpful.

Modelling users: Pinballs

The actual affordances of the system are designed so that only certain behaviours occur. It just silently structures behaviour: users follow the designers’ behaviour specification without necessarily being aware of it.

This view can lead to poor user experience, when the priorities of the designer and users conflict.

Nepal‘s Tribhuvan Airport issued staff with trousers without pockets, to reduce bribery by making it harder to hide cash

Give people stickers based on their skills & motivations to make sure each group has an effective balance of skills & motivations

Modelling users: Shortcuts

We make decisions based on how choices are presented to us, and can’t devote the same mental effort to engage with every decision. If something is the default, most people stick with it.

Get people on website to navigate straight to challenge

Modelling users: Thoughtful

Thoughtful users are assumed to think about what they are doing, and why, and change their attitudes and behaviour in response to reasoned arguments. Give your system plenty of information displays and feedback which allow users to explore the implications of what they’re doing, and understand the world around them better.

Provide people with context about the challenge that meets people’s different learning styles — conceptual (scenarios & methods), social (comment & discuss), factual (data & strategy) & action-focused (how to & methods)

Converging & diverging

Create space so people come together in specific ways.

Errorproofing Lens

The Errorproofing Lens treats deviations from the ‘target behaviour’ as ‘errors’ which design can help avoid, either by making it easier for users to work without making errors, or by making errors impossible in the first place.

Interaction Lens

The Interaction Lens brings together some of the most common design elements of interfaces where users’ interactions with the system affect how their behaviour is influenced.

Ludic Lens

Games are great at engaging people for long periods of time, getting them involved, and influencing people’s behaviour through their very design.

Provoke curiosity through changing the front page with user-generated content

Document and report the activities to keep participants engaged after the event and attract new people to take part in future events

Perceptual Lens

The Perceptual Lens addresses how users perceive patterns and meanings as they interact with the systems around them, and puts them into forms which invite the designer to think about how they might influence people’s behaviour.

Cognitive Lens

If designers understand how users make interaction decisions, that knowledge can be used to influence interaction behaviour.

Provoke empathy
Get people to share stories which provoke empathy
Show people what tasks other people have carried out

Machiavellian Lens

The Machiavellian Lens comprises design patterns which, while diverse, all embody an ‘end justifies the means’ approach.

Security Lens

The Security Lens represents a ‘security’ worldview, i.e. that undesired user behaviour is something to deter and/or prevent though ‘countermeasures’ designed into products, systems and environments, both physically and online.

See more at Design With Intent.




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese